I just posted the sermon I preached this past Sunday and I’m thinking back on what happened in worship on Sunday. It was pretty intense in a lot of ways. First, some context: I serve a mid-size congregation in a very affluent town in Westchester County, NY. Our congregation is in some ways very diverse ethnically, but also fairly sheltered, in that most people live in the upper echelon of financial status. It is a very educated congregation – as many folks graduated from ivy league schools to get to work in a job that might allow them to live in this type of community. It is a fairly moderate congregation theologically, with some members who are very liberal/progressive and some who are very conservative. Because of this education and affluence, people are almost always polite – accepting that they have differences of opinions and avoiding certain topics on which they might disagree. Worship is creatively traditional, and the congregation recently put in a brand new pipe organ to the tune of over $1 million.
The point I want to make is: worship tends to be that stoic, intellectual type. We have fun during children’s sermons and announcements, but music is listened to with a very educated ear, and sermons are inspected fairly closely. Let’s just say this is the first congregation that I’ve had my sermons quoted back to me accurately and my references checked.
So I preached this sermon on Sunday – the one that I posted below, and I went a little out on a limb. I pushed my own envelope a bit. I said some things that still sting in my soul a bit – it was almost a little more honest than I wanted to be, I think. I drove home thinking – did I go too far?
After the sermon, one of our paid soloists stood to sing the offertory anthem. It was a song called, “In Jesus’ name.” And this woman brought it. I mean – as she started, I could tell that this was going to be different. We’ve had some moments with music before – spirituals and jazz and guest musicians. But you could tell that she was putting it all out there during this solo – she was laying her heart and soul down for all to see. In the last line – she broke and started sobbing, she had to speak the last line of her solo, and return to her seat in the choir with tears running down her face.
As my director of music said – you could tell that was a different silence.
It was a moment that was scary – for me too. I felt like we had both put ourselves in very vulnerable positions – that we had revealed more than we had wanted. That in some ways we wished we could take it back, but in some ways it was some of the most powerful stuff that has happened in worship since I’ve started. I got more compliments about the service than I have gotten yet from this congregation, (who don’t give compliments too easily,) and I can’t express just how intense it was for me as well.
The act of preaching a sermon is so tricky. I’m an emotive preacher – I tell stories that I think will move people’s souls. I want them to feel something when they are sitting there in the pews. I want them to resonate – to hum like a bell – to leave the sanctuary feeling different. But I also worry about that desire – is it manipulative? Is it too much to pull on people’s heartstrings like that? Do I leave them in a better place or just all broken up inside? How far is too far when it comes to emotive preaching?
Well – here’s the sermon…I guess you can decide. What I can say is that the spirit was moving on Sunday – and it was a little scary and intense…